Four months after Iraq impressed the world by holding successful parliamentary elections, the country has become mired in a political standoff. Neither Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki nor challenger Ilya Allawi garnered enough votes for their respective political parties to secure the parliamentary majority required to form the new government. Months of negotiating, infighting, and accusations have accomplished little and involvement by the U.S., led by Vice President Joe Biden, has been unable to break the stalemate. Ramadan begins on August 11, when Baghdad and its political machinery will slow down considerably, sapping the momentum for coalition-building. Is Iraq, after surviving one of the worst civil wars in recent history, facing a political deadlock that could compromise everything? Or is the country nearing a political breakthrough?

  • What Iraq Can't Resolve  Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks lists the problems: "There is no agreement on how to share oil revenue, no resolution of the basic relationship between the country's three major groups, and no decision on whether Iraq will have a strong central government or be a loose confederation. And no resolution on the future place of the Kurds and Kirkuk."
  • Iraq Needs National Identity  The Guardian's Ranj Alaaldin calls for an identity that all Iraqis can rally behind. "Today's Iraq is much more democratic and accountable to its people than at any other point in its history, but, despite all that, no one quite knows what today's Iraq actually stands for. For all of Saddam's atrocities and the failures of previous governments, Iraq has historically had some kind of identity based, at the very least, on Sunni-Arabist characteristics, even if this was forcibly imposed on the population by governments in Baghdad and their western backers. Today, however, there is no longer any meaningful construct to the term 'Iraq'."
  • U.S. Should Guide Long-Term Institution Building  The Brookings Institute's Kenneth Pollack writes, "Given the fragility of Iraq’s nascent democracy, and the importance of this particular transition—which will set precedents for decades to come—the United States and the Iraqis have good reason to be patient. If we want a government bad, we can get one bad, but that won’t serve anyone’s interests." Pollack says the U.S. should mandate how Iraqi politics proceed--for example, declaring the winner of the March election--but do so with an eye for how to set Iraq on the proper course for independence and self-governance.
  • U.S. Must Get Involved, and Soon  Iraqi political expert Reidar Visser tells the Council on Foreign Relations, "I don't think it's going to unravel completely, because the Iraqi army is now a lot stronger than before, but it's certainly a problem if the situation remains unresolved by the time we hit the end of August." But the U.S. should be more involved.
[American influence in Iraq] declining by the day. It's also a little bit unhelpful that the United States hasn't made practical proposals beyond outlining a preferred end game. It has just said that it wants the four biggest lists to get together in a coalition government. That's perhaps the most troubling aspect of U.S. policy. The United States just indicates that it wants a big coalition, but it doesn't really engage in the process of getting there. Due to the constitutional modalities involved, it's actually quite unlikely that you will end up with a scenario of Iraqiya, the State of Law, the INA, and the Kurds, and it will certainly be one of the most time-consuming scenarios.